“As a white drag queen who is getting written up all over, this allows her to move upwards. She’s white in a society that intrinsically privileges whiteness. What she is doing is not transgressive. Mainstream society already thinks it’s OK to say the N word, to misgender people,” Wright said. “Who is she pushing boundaries with? And she’s refusing to acknowledge this.”

Wright said while Needles shrugs off questions about the controversy because she calls it her “art,” what Needles says hurts people, especially queer people of color in white gay culture.

“We’re told this is not really racism. But there is no such thing as a little bit of racism. It may not be the KKK, but the effects are the same,” Wright added.

The Huffington Post has an article that states Needles has made racist comments. In one example, a video on YouTube shows Needles (real name Aaron Coady) referring to someone as “him/her/it/”

The other night me and a couple of my friends went out to have a good time, and there’s this young thing. I call her a “thing” because, you know, I don’t know how to tip-toe around gender rules or queer politics. I’m 30 years old, rich, and famous; I don’t have to deal with that shit anymore, you know what I mean? So we’ll just call them “him”/”her”/”thing,” whatever. And you know she really finds my shows offensive. … So anyway she got upset that I paint myself brown, that I would use language that she found offensive. … She made me an unnecessary poster child for post-racial change.”

In the June 20 issue of alt-weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the newspaper acknowledges it is hard to verify some of the racist comments Needles has made — specifically use of the word “nigger” in her acts and on Facebook —  but did get a chance to talk to her briefly after the Pittsburgh City Council named June 12 “Sharon Needles Day.” From the story:

But Needles herself seems a bit more ambivalent. On the one hand, speaking before council on June 12, she said she was proud to be a “voice of positivity for gay people,” and trumpeted her Drag Race victory as “a win for every single kid in this city who’s still being bullied, who’s still being judged for who they are.” Instead of talking about her critics, she says, she’d rather focus on the hundreds of letters she receives from kids who saying she’s been an inspiration.

On the other hand, when asked afterward if she were trying to use her performances to discuss specific issues, she said flatly, “No. That’s not my problem. I’m an artist and I don’t fucking have to answer for my work.”

That attitude of not wanting to enter into dialogue is upsetting to Wright.

“How can she make statements and not listen to marginalized communities who say you are standing on our necks and what are you going to do about it?” Wright asked.

Richard Cherskov, owner of the Jungle, said he researched Needles and couldn’t find anything solid on the topic.

“I really don’t have anything to add to the conversation right now. I’m concerned things may be taken out of context,” he said.

Needles also denies she is racist in an interview with Boy Culture.

UPDATE: Catirina Reyes, a person of color and a friend with organizers of the protest, wrote a  note on Facebookon June 20 after she received an autographed photo of Needles referring to Reyes as “nigger.” Reyes, who lives in Philadelphia, said she went to see Needles perform at a gay nightclub in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday, April 13, and that’s when she got the autographed photo.

“Yes I did receive a signed autograph from Miss Needles and it said Black is the new Black [♥] you Nigger Sharon Needles,” Reyes said in an email to GA Voice.

A portion of Reyes’ note that was posted to Sharon Needles’ Facebook page states:

I understand being provocative but who signs an autograph to a person of color and uses racial epithets. The N-word doesn’t bother me because it has nothing to do with the person i am. As an anti-racist I am concerned for people who may be triggered by the use racial slurs. I would really love to engage in dialog with Sharon Needles about her use of hate speech. I saw a video in which Ms. Needles said” i don’t hate people for how they look i hate them for how they act”. I see this as a contradiction and I believe that using the N-word while signing an autograph to a fan is hate rhetoric. Knowing how charged that word is and using it for shock value screams racism. The first thing that a racist says is that I am not a racist. We have all heard this before.

To see the autographed photo and read the full note, click here.

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